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2012 March 19 - 12:00 am

POLITICS and POLICY: Biden Touts Community Colleges in NC Visit

THOMASVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Prosperity for middle-class Americans became harder than ever under the previous presidential administration, but federal funding for partnerships between community colleges and employers is a crucial way to kickstart that upward mobility, Vice President Joe Biden told a North Carolina crowd.

Biden dropped in on the final stop of a multistate bus tour by his wife, Jill, and U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis aimed at spotlighting the $8 billion in President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for building working alliances between two-year degree programs and companies in need of skilled employees.

“It used to be the steel mill. It used to be the factory floor. It used to be construction,” Biden told a crowd of about 1,000 at Davidson County Community College in Thomasville, a longtime furniture manufacturing center about 25 miles southwest of Greensboro. “Those are still viable. But this is the path for so many people now.”

The bus tour started in Ohio and winded through Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, but the vice president joined only the stop in electorally crucial North Carolina, a state he and Obama narrowly won four years ago and where the Democratic Party will have its presidential nominating convention in September.

Biden told the crowd that American economic success means ensuring that workers get a greater share of the benefits of surging productivity, but was careful to avoid any rhetoric that Republicans in this generally conservative state could seize on.

“There’s no bad guys here,” he said. “I’m not into this class stuff. I come from a wealthy state, Delaware, and I got elected seven times there.”

Solis, meanwhile, alluded to unnamed political interests standing in the way of the budget that includes the funding for community college initiatives like the ones she and the Bidens toured at Davidson.

“I know that some politicians out there think that because of the fiscal challenges we’re going through, we can’t afford to invest in American workers,” she said, saying such thinking was misguided. “We need to support our entrepreneurs, our workers and the educational institutions that train them.”

North Carolina has 58 community colleges, and the system that Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan called “the crown jewel of our state” has become something of a touchstone for the administration. Obama has singled out North Carolina community colleges for praise in his last two State of the Union addresses.

None of that impressed state Republican leaders very much, who criticized the Obama administration for policies they said are hampering economic recovery.

“Vice President Biden’s trip today is a great opportunity for him to discuss the titanic debt that the Obama administration has placed on the shoulders of my children and grandchildren’s generation,” state GOP Chairman Robin Hayes said in a statement.

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